THE problem that affects growth and progress in aviation sub-sector is not the lack of strategic plans because we have documents from various brainstorming sessions we have not implemented.
We also have trained and experienced personnel at the head and at the management cadre of our aviation agencies.
Two things are hindering us in the industry:
The first is lack of political will to dismantle systems that impede innovations and growth in tandem with current global trend. This would then give way for the recreation of new systems.
The second is the enemy within the industry. Most stakeholders speak in public about ways to improve and grow the system. When they are inside with decision makers, they ask and collect what benefits them first. This they do at the detriment of the good of the industry; indeed, they do shoot down fellow stakeholders in the process for their personal interest. This particular attitude of the stakeholders cannot keep the minister or heads of aviation agencies on their toes. Why should they shake when stakeholders have compromised? They have done well this far considering our attitude as stakeholders.
My recommendations are as follows.
- Before Nigerian aviation sub-sector can impact our economy and make significant contributions globally, we need to put our house in order. A house divided against itself cannot stand. Bickering in Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) is okay, but it is not okay that current airlines with large fleets covering multiple routes are not members of the executive in AON.
The aviation unions should not be seen to fight after the negative result of a transaction has manifested. They should fight at the beginning of the idea up to the procedures for consummation. It is usually unpleasant to see us agitate when the harm has been done.
Before we go to the African continent to discuss single market, or the international arena to discuss open skies, we must develop capacity at home. Our systems and institutions must be strong enough to throw out the personal idiosyncrasies of any political appointee. Our financial integrity and corporate culture must be able to compete and beat global competitors.
- The laws that established and the regulations that guides the various aviation agencies must be revised and upgraded to allow them be economically viable yet retain safety and security as their primary function.
FAAN should concentrate on security, fire cover, and regulating the various companies that conduct businesses in the airports to ensure compliance to agreed procedures. All the business activities in the airports should be under companies that have agreement with FAAN.
These companies compete in quality of services to meet global standards while FAAN set standards and earn fees from the companies. Cleaning, environment, operations, power supply, inter/intra terminal commuters, tourism, entertainment, food chains, malls, passenger handling, aircraft handling, cargo processing, warehousing, communications, hotels, medical facilities, training institutions, maintenance and repair organizations, financial institutions, recreational organizations, estates, clubs, sporting institutions, these are some of the various business activities in a typical airport city.
For FAAN, they can identify airports according to strength of which activities it attracts. Examples to guide our thoughts are: Calabar and Sokoto fits tourist airports. Port Harcourt and Kano fits business hubs. Lagos fits continental hub. Markudi and Yola fits agricultural hubs. Trade and cargo hubs between Asia and Nigeria falls between Owerri/Enugu. Gatwick airport handlers manage and pay annual fees to the airport authority in Accra.
AIB is currently on the right course by seeking to upgrade its laws to enable it expand its coverage. Air, Sea, Rail, and Road incidents/accidents should be investigated and documented and published by AIB. The essence is to provide documents to transport operators to guide against repeated mistakes. The AIB report will reveal immediate and remote causes and caution against repeat of error in procedure or process. This should help operators and create avenues for AIB to generate income.
NCAT is already a world class technical institution. It should generate revenue outside training and course fees. Research and production of technological equipment and services should be their focus. The air traffic communication department should produce equipment as well as repair and overhaul. The school, the knowledge, and the human resources are available for our aviation sub-sector to harness.
Most units in NAMA are potential income yielding platforms.
The foundation must be able to carry what we will build on top of it. The reason airlines have not merged in Nigeria is because there is no platform to sort interchange of tickets and cross pay for services delivered on behalf of each other.
Maintenance is 95% foreign because maintenance and repair organizations are not established in Nigeria. Aero Contractor has done well but no sufficient backing to move the initiative forward.
Which airline in Nigeria today can withstand international competition on its routes? They need financial strength and corporate governance culture.
Innovations and training is key because the world is changing fast. Self service airports have come to stay. We need to catch up fast. Drones and unmanned vehicles are flying airspaces worldwide.
What would I like or think our aviation would be like in 10-15 years from now?
I remember we were asked this same question in 1996 at EUROSAS aviation training institution in Toulouse. In my answer then I said: ticketless travel itinerary, check in from home where the passenger chooses seat and meal, and check-in his baggage from home. This has been achieved even to a large proportion in Nigeria.
If that same question is posed to me today, my response would as follows:
I hope to see aircraft land in our airports at zero visibility. I hope to see the general aviation develop with small aeroplanes flown for several services including club flying, aerial mapping/photography, agricultural spraying flights, sporting flights, aerial journalism.
I hope to see unmanned vehicles flying in our airspace for various purposes. I hope to see all aeronautical information and notices accessed by all operators in a portal or domain using simple modern tools like phone or tablet. I hope to see when there will be rail transport services conveying us between the terminals in an airport. I long to see rail that links the farm produce depots and the agricultural cargo terminals. I hope to see an airport where passengers would access facilities without depending on human intermediaries who are there to extort from them; airports that are customer/user friendly; where data about travelers are stored and retrieved without stress among the agencies.
In the next 15 years maintenance would have advanced to the point that diagnosis and cure time would be drastically reduced from what is obtained now. There would be more pilots flying aeroplanes with controls from a ground center than from the cockpit. Whether we grow with these features in our systems, the world has moved on. If you check your flight itinerary from Heathrow to New York, or Beijing, the distance flown with bio fuel, fossil fuel, and carbon fuel are stated. Airlines get aircraft from investment companies who understand management of aircraft as asset, not from commercial banks selling money for 18-36months.
In the light of the above, our aviation development plans should recognize these features as inputs.
Finally, no investor, no operator, no user likes hostile environment. They will migrate to a friendly environment. The aviation sector exists to be patronized. It does not exist for itself and it is not doing favour to operators and users.
Corporate travel patronage will reduce after the covid-19 era because the use virtual media or video conferencing would have come to stay. It would be seen as budget control item. Corporations would send personnel to face to face meeting when it is absolutely necessary. This means the aviation sector has to evolve innovative services to remain relevant.
Lead Consultant, ETIMFRI Group